Commentary

Kick-ins, 30-minute halves and dribbling from free kicks. Why not?

I used to be on our neighborhood pool committee when I lived in the United States. After coaching and refereeing, it was my third-favorite voluntary task. Whenever we newer members of the committee suggested any kind of change, the more long-standing servants would hold their heads in their hands and groan, "Serving beer and wine for adults once or twice a summer during a two-hour window on a Saturday evening? If we do that, it's just going to open up a whole can of worms!"

Soccer fans tend to be just as conservative when it comes to changing its rules. Ever since the North American Soccer League in the 1970s, anyone suggesting legislative ways to improve the game is accused of wanting to 'Americanize' the sport. It's true that the NASL wanted a lot of restrictions lifted to adapt soccer to a U.S. audience in a competitive and already crowded market. It's unfair, though, to blame the U.S. when — half a century later — a lower Dutch league is suggested as the playing field for experimentation. And just because soccer is already a good sport does not mean it can't be improved, wherever in the world it's being played.

The head of Dutch amateur soccer, Dirk van der Zee, earlier this month put forward a series of changes to make the game, in his words, "faster and fairer." None of his ideas are necessarily new — stopping the clock when the ball's out of play (2 x 30 minute halves of 'pure playing time'); 5-minute sin-bins instead of yellow cards; kick-ins instead of throw-ins; being able to dribble the ball from a free kick; and unlimited substitutions. Van der Zee proposed that the changes should be tried out in one of the Netherlands' lower professional leagues, starting next year.

The administrator also correctly pointed out that the biggest resistance to any such changes would come from FIFA and UEFA, the world and European governing bodies. The Dutch federation was not so keen either, and swiftly issued a statement to clarify that the experiment was not going to happen, and they wanted nothing to do with such radicalism. Why, this is just going to open up a whole can of worms!

Yet, aside from unlimited subs (already allowed in many amateur leagues, but surely not necessary at the top of the game now that we have five subs), these ideas are worth a serious look at the very least:

Two x 30-minute halves. In my piece about time-wasting last month this idea came up over and again in the comments section. The resistance comes simply from the fact that it's never been done before. Except in college soccer, to some extent, and almost every other sport, where a clock kept off the field not only works, but is completely fair. Is college soccer 'americanized'? No, and you don't hear fans on the way out of the stadium complaining how much more enjoyable the game would have been if there had been seven added minutes of injury time. Try it, at least. If the lack of injury time prompts fans in their thousands to stop attending, I'd be very surprised.

Five-minute sin-bins. Or maybe 10 minutes would be better. Because there's really not much penalty in a yellow card unless it later becomes a yellow-red. True, it might curb the fouling of a dirty player. But why not curb the fouling of a dirty player and have that dirty player off the field for 10 minutes, too? (By the way, this season we've been experimenting with a sin-bin in the German amateur leagues where I ref. Except that the sin-bin only comes between a yellow and a red card, so it's made very little difference to the levels of dissent and foul play. It's effectively a rule in favor of even more lenience toward the foul-mouthed or foul-footed player.)

Kick-ins to replace throw-ins. Soccer is a game that's best played on the ground, with the feet. Any coach who's had to coach young players how to take throw-ins and how to control throw-ins would probably adore this rule. Kick-ins foster basic soccer skills (if the ball had to be played in along the ground — or, say, not above knee height), and could be carried out much quicker than throw-ins. Throw-ins encourage long ball play, ugly goals and time-wasting. Please, let's give it a try. When coaching, I use it in small-sided practice games all the time.

Dribbling from free kicks. Of all Van der Zee's suggestions, this is the one I'd most like to see in trial. The advantage should always be with the team that's been fouled, and allowing a player to dribble directly from a free kick would open up a host of attacking options. Let's add dribbling from corner kicks too. And why not from our brand new kick-ins (see above)? Soccer's lack of artistry and individual flair has been a problem since the 1950s, and this might be a way to usher in a new age of foot-oriented play rather than the airborne skulduggery that plagues so many tactical directives from the touchline.

After an extrordinary general meeting to change our by-laws, I pushed through my proposal for alcohol to be occasionally served at adult social events at our neighborhood pool. No one drowned, no one was arrested. No cans of worms were opened, and there were no slippery slopes to hell and damnation. Encouraging fair play and flair play won't kill soccer. Innovations that would be simple to implement are worth a debate and a trial, at the very least.

(Ian Plenderleith's next book 'Reffing Hell: Stuck in the Middle of a Game Gone Wrong' will be published in August, and is available to pre-order direct from Halcyon Publishing in the UK.)

28 comments about "Kick-ins, 30-minute halves and dribbling from free kicks. Why not?".
  1. Dan Woog, June 21, 2022 at 7:03 a.m.

    Whatever goes around, comes around. I played high school soccer in Connecticut in the 1970s. I believe at some earlier time, kick-ins had been used instead of throw-ins. It might even have been at the college level. I don't remember watching that, but I know it's not a new idea.

    I also heard stroeis that at some point before I played, ties were resolved based on corner kicks. Whichever team had the most got the win. The theory (I guess) was that they had created more good offensive opportunities. I have no idea what happened if teams were level on corner kicks too!

  2. Victor Mathseon replied, June 22, 2022 at 11:20 a.m.

    Dan, the corner kicks thing was used in USL as an experiment, too. It quickly ended as teams tied in the final minutes started trying to get corner kicks instead of goals. Not exactly the beautiful game.

  3. Wayne Norris, June 21, 2022 at 8:43 a.m.

    Game is fine as is...

  4. Peter Bechtold replied, June 22, 2022 at 11:57 a.m.

    Back in the 1960s, AFTER I had played youth and college soccer in Germany and the US, respectively, and coached 2 top teams in Africa and soon a college team in the ACC, I took a stop watch while seeing an international match on tv and each half of actual ball-in-play was about 28 minutes under FIFA rules. This led me to thinking about the many forms of soccer played and refereed in the world.
    On one hand, its popularity lay in the simplicity of the game, contrast to American "football" with plethora of Zebras and gadgets(impossible to apply in most countries world-wide). Keep it,I thought despite some uneven, and even some patently "unfair" outcomes.
    On the other hand, I remembered playing in lower leagues in Germany where the sidelines were just 2 meters from a brook(without a foot-bridge) and before multiple balls were available. Not to mention the fields carved out of hilly terrain where an errant goal shot sailed over the short fence and rolled down the hill some distance, only to be retrieved ?? seconds/minutes later. Or what about the delay caused by goalkeepers every time they kick the ball back into play after a goal-miss? The time lost after a clear foul when the defending team refuses to drop 9 meters ?
       In the interest of fairness, is it not possible to come up with some sort of compromise for certain levels of the game ? For example, we can see a plethora of matches on tv from the EPL where almost all matches are played in SSS (soccer specific stadiums); compare that to Italy and Germany where there are A FEW SSSs,and balls come right back to the pitch. Yet many at top divisions have runnung tracks around and missed attempts on goal wind up 30 yards or so behind the goal. This has been compensated by having multiple balls and "ball-kids", but at top levels only. Not every country can afford these devices.
    Consider here the uneven availability of VAR depending on league and country, and type of competition, a difference frequently commented on by the tv announcers. I say: Multiple balls, ball-kids near the out-of-bounds have helped a lot: are they universal ? Extra-time also helps, but is it accurate ? What do we want: Fair oucomes or conveniences for wealthier places ?

  5. Bob Ashpole replied, June 22, 2022 at 5:40 p.m.

    Best post you have made yet. Goes right to the heart of the purpose of participation sports. Spot on.

  6. Greedy Striker, June 21, 2022 at 9:57 a.m.

    Leave it to stupid idiots like this guy to try and contort the rules of the game to suit their liking! How about you learn the rules FIFA already has in place. They're good enough for every other country in the world!

  7. Victor Mathseon replied, June 22, 2022 at 11:19 a.m.

    Hmm, it's almost as if Wayne and Greedy perfectly sum up the thinking that Ian specifically talked about in the very first paragraph of his piece...


    And Bob, the 30-minute halves would be 30-minutes where the clock stops whenever the ball isn't in play. That typically works out to roughly the same as our current 45-minute halves. 


    The 30-minutes of true playing time is an interesting idea, the USL actually tried this in the 90s along with a huge number of other experimental rule changes. The main problem is simply that you need yet another worker (who often screws up, mind you) to do the game. Not a deal big at the pro level but hard basically anywhere else.

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, June 22, 2022 at 5:43 p.m.

    Like stopping play would not change the game? Compare the physical requirements for American Football compared to traditional soccer. Compare the physical type of athletes playing both sports and their fitness training.

  9. Bob Ashpole, June 21, 2022 at 10:46 a.m.

    In my lifetime the game has already changed drasticly adding substitutions and allowing coaching from the sidelines. Now we are going to shorten the halves? Won't be the same game. Players will be able to play full out the entire match without any need to manage the pace of the game. Of course people who favor turbo soccer would think that is a good idea. Why not shrink the fields and make the defense a lot simpler while you are at it.

    Everything that attracted me to the game in 1958 is gone now. (The mental and physical challenges of the sport). Now lets turn it into a game for couch potatoes. If I were born today, I  suspect that I would have played rugby instead.

  10. Wayne Norris replied, June 22, 2022 at 6:15 a.m.

    Bob, all great points.

    how about the hydration breaks. If we need them (which I doubt) why dont the teams all meet in penalty areas and have water delivered by the support staff with no coaches? Now they basically have a free time out to adjust tactics

  11. Ben Myers replied, June 22, 2022 at 11:25 a.m.

    The proposal for 2x30 minute halves with stoppages of the clock would hyothetically not shorten the game.  The idea eliminates time-wasting by keepers and defenders who fail to give 10 years on free kicks, for example.  To test the validity of this idea, run a stopwatch over an entire 2x45 plus stoppage time.  Start the clock when the ball is in play, stop the clock when play stops for whatever reason, the ball in the back of the net and celebration, ball out of bounds, referee blows whistle.  Now tally up the time to see how much of the 2x45 the ball is actually in play.  The result would not be quite as awful as American football, in which something is really happening no more than 15 minutes of the supposed 60 minutes of play.

    I think 2x30 of start-stop time has some merit, and needs to be assessed under controlled conditions.  The only downside I see is the added responsibility of time-keeping for the referee, possibly enough to quash the idea..

  12. Bob Ashpole replied, June 22, 2022 at 5:44 p.m.

    Ben, it would greatly change the game. Compare the physical demands, tactics, and types of athletes and training of American football to traditional soccer.

  13. Seth Vieux, June 21, 2022 at 12:56 p.m.

    I support replacing the throw in - while coaching I always tell players it's the most boring part of the sport so don't waste any time with decision making, just get it in as quickly as possible to the nearest teammate that isn't completely blanketed by an opponent, if that's not available down the sideline it goes so we can get back to playing. As Ian mentions, in small sided games I always go with kick ins rther than throw ins.

    'Below the knees' or 'on the ground' is probably the result I'd personally prefer to see, but don't think including it in a law would be the correct application. The only thing I'd really like to prevent is having it turn into a similar advantage as a corner kick. As I've thought about this over the years I tend to think that kick-ins from the attacking third (or even half?) could maybe be limited to square or back pass only at any range / ball flight. You'd also want to impose a 5 or 10 yard cushion from the ball that the opponent must respoect until the ball is put in play.

    On the time clock - please leave that alone. Remember that youth soccer is played primarily at venues with multiple pitches/games going at once and many communities struggle to get even 2, let alone 3, referees for each match. Expecting an additional time-keeping official (which you'd definitely need just like in basketball/football/hockey where there is ONE game at a time) is unrealistic.

    Hockey-style penalty box has been used for indoor soccer leages for at least 40 years, while I don't totally hate it I don't love it. I have seen several different local associations require a cautioned player to be subbed off, accomplishing the 'cooling off' Ian desires. In unlimited substitution leagues this is fine. Where subs are limited to 3-5 this is a bit more tricky though. I could see the sin-bin work here as those matches don't have the officiating population challenge to help manage for the referee. I could also see using the substitution required at coach's discretion: depending on the time remaining in a half a coach may choose to play short for the remaining minutes of the first half (player can return for secoind half if sub not used) rather than use one of their subs.

    Hard no on dribbling from free kicks for me.

  14. Bob Ashpole replied, June 22, 2022 at 5:57 p.m.

    I loved coaching throwins exercises, not to teach the technique but to teach about creating space by movement off the ball. I find that very exciting. 

    I also had my youth players restart play as soon as possible--because I wanted them to master penetrating and scoring during the run of play, not from restarts. I gave players general ideas of what to do, but never created or trained set restart plays. Coaches can't actually teach creativity--they allow it.

  15. Christopher Osmond, June 21, 2022 at 1:34 p.m.

    I think auto-calls on offside, similar to goal line crossing technology real time is all you really need.  Game is fine and does not need to be changed.  There are always unpredictable unintended consequences when change is implemented that could be for the worse.  Need to be careful.  Game is fine!

  16. Santiago 1314, June 22, 2022 at 6:05 a.m.

    This is FOOTball... Kick-In is Fine with me, WITH Option for throw...10 second Rule, Similar to Basketball.
    HANDball should be Whistled at ALL TIMES... 
    Then let the Referee decide if it is;
    DIRECT(INTENTIONAL)
    IN-DIRECT(UN-INTENTIONAL)
    So many Casual Observers I watch the Game with "Don't get the ""subtleties"... Of current Rules(That literally CHANGE EVERY YEAR)
    K I.S.S.( Keep It Simple Stupid)

  17. Bob Ashpole replied, June 22, 2022 at 6:06 p.m.

    Because of advantage and trifling, fans can't learn the rules by watching. So many fans believe that holding is not an offense. LOL. My pet peave is youth coaches that teach players how to hold instead of teaching them how to mark without cheating first. What is a player who depends on holding to be effective supposed to do after he is cautioned?

    I just saw that in the U20 play. 3 defenders all trying to stop the opponent by holding him. Nobody bothered to tackle the ball. That is the players fault. That is how their development coaches made them.

  18. Beau Dure, June 22, 2022 at 6:14 a.m.

    I have to disagree on the game clock, which was trialed nearly 30 years ago in the USISL and was a resounding flop. No one misses the countdown clock in MLS, either  


    In college soccer, the last minute of a one-goal game is a farce. The defending team knows it can do nearly anything it wants to stop play. Stoppage time gives the ref a little bit of control over time-wasting. 

    I'm intrigued by dribbling on set pieces, though. 

  19. John Polis, June 22, 2022 at 9:42 a.m.

    Great ideas -- for the Dutch amateurs perhaps. But that's it. 

  20. Roger Geiss, June 22, 2022 at 12:05 p.m.

    How about making penalty kicks less "almost automatic"?  Allow the kick-taker to dribble from, say 18 yards, and allow the keeper to move. Also, player fouled should take the kick, except in a no- foul situation, such as a hand-ball.

  21. George Miller, June 22, 2022 at 12:11 p.m.

    Dribbling on free kicks/ and corner kicks.
    this would stop all the pushing and shoving which in any other part of the game would be fouls but the abusive holding and pushing would end because the attacker could dribble quickly and they wouldn't be setting up for that kick into the box. I agree it would be a very positive change

  22. Bob Ashpole replied, June 24, 2022 at 12:35 p.m.

    George, the pushing and shoving would be fouls if the ball were in play. Until the ball is in play the referee may only card players for misconduct. Which is drastic so you see the officials attempt to manage the game with only verbal warnings at that point. No matter how the restart actually is made, there will still be the same problem before the restart.

  23. Doug Broadie, June 22, 2022 at 12:24 p.m.

    Don't have too much of a problem with everything except kick-in's.  This was tried in a lower English league for a year and what happened is that when a kick-in was given in the offensive half, all the big guys came up from the back and it turned into Thug Ball.  Also, it took about four times longer to get the ball back into play.  Not a good idea.
    Dribbling from a free kick would be fine IF you could get a defender back to the proper 10 yards.

  24. Mark Mittelstadt, June 22, 2022 at 3:34 p.m.

    Of these suggestions I can only see replacing the throw-in with kick-in being attractive to players and audiences. Either method is a means of getting the ball back into play after it has gone over either side of the pitch. Add a 5-second time limit to get the ball in play or it goes to the opponent.

    Kick-ins are used by FUTSAL and Special Olympics and keep the match flowing. No more throwers holding the ball over their head looking all around for seemingly an eternity before tossing it onto the field. No more issues whether the thrower used both hands to deliver the ball from behind and over the head, whether they stepped over the touchline with one or both feet, whether they kept both feet on the ground as they delivered it. We'd lose the somersault throw-in; I view that as yet another argument for kick-ins.

  25. Bob Ashpole replied, June 22, 2022 at 5:51 p.m.

    From your comments I get the impression that you never played the game yourself.

    In adult amateur matches quite often a winded player will blast the ball 40 yards out of play in order to delay the match and recover. Now you would reward that tactic by turning over the ball to the lazy player as well. Your suggestion is unworkable.

  26. R2 Dad, June 22, 2022 at 5:08 p.m.

    Can we just get 5 years of no changes to the LOTG? All this IFAB micromanaging has made it that much harder to determine actual fouls. Are we using the "old" handling rules, or the new ones? Ever since the the 2009 Henry/Ireland handball match the sport has continually looked to the government/FIFA/IFAB to solve every perceived injustice. Often times the best new law is no new law at all.

  27. Bob Ashpole replied, June 22, 2022 at 8:33 p.m.

    Well said.

  28. Wooden Ships, June 22, 2022 at 11:55 p.m.

    I must be doing something wrong, or not seeing all the deficiencies. I spend no time while watching matches wishing this or that. Time to schedule a visit with a therapist for my subconscious disdain for the game I've loved my entire life (I'm nearly 17 World Cups old). We should play with two balls, three, like Pin Ball when you're killing it. 

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